A Travellerspoint blog

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The countdown begins...

Vaccinations and visa

sunny 11 °C

After spending a lot of thought if we want to start our trip in India or Mexico and more of these luxury problems, we decided, based on weather predictions (how foolish can you be?), to start our trip with 1 month India.
As we all know that swimming with dry hair is the same as 'zachte heelmeesters maken stinkende wonden', India should be the best place to start with a culture shock. If you want one.. then go all the way at once.
How is it that though never been in all these countries we wanna visit, you are nervous for some and looking forward to others? India is such a place to be a little anxious about, which I am, but I am looking forward to China although not speaking Chinese in this awfully big country should pose a problem.. Curious how these presumptions work.

These last weeks have been dominated by visits to doctors talking about strange diseases such as Japanese encephalitis, Rabies, Malaria, etc. and spending money on passports, visa and other bureaucratic nonsense you want to spare your fellow human beings. Last week I visited the Dutch embassy late in the afternoon and they wouldnt help me because they only have business hours from 9 till 12. I switched from Dutch to German and asked if he was serious. The well integrated man said something about rules, order, system and unable to make an exception.
Before our trip even started I felt home again!

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Posted by BasJulia 17:00 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Lift off in 1 day! Goodbye you All!

Tomorrow at 13.00 we will finally leave for our dream journey!

We will conquer the world...... first stop: Mumbai!

The bags are packed and all our friends cried! What more can you wish for? ;-)

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Posted by BasJulia 09:12 Archived in Germany Comments (5)

Mumbai Yes sir!

sunny 36 °C

First things first.. we like the Indian food and it treats us well up to now :-)
Mumbai is a crazy city with crazy people and crazy traffic! But the sun is shining, the buildings are wonderful and the people are smiling! What else do you wish for?
The colors are amazing and the smells produce mixed emotions! What a way to start our trip!
We would like to write more and post pictures but the building is about to collapse and undefined species have taken over the room we are in :-)

More next time... promised!

By the way... for all you Berlin people... its 36 degrees over here!

Talk to you soon!

Some pics like we promised!

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Posted by BasJulia 04:02 Archived in India Comments (5)

Next stop Goa, Sir

sunny 31 °C

Dear Friends,

Writing to you from Agonda Beach in Goa after witnessing a beautiful sunset & eating delicious grilled fish fresh from the sea, we can tell you that life is good.
For some, we must add. Many people in Mumbai would disagree. Mumbai was fascinating, beautiful, disturbing, stressful, ugly, friendly, worth visiting & maybe worth visiting again, all at the same time. It's hard to get an impression of such a big city in 3 days, especially a city like Mumbai. Colaba in the south is where all the tourists hide from the real Mumbai, but even there you cannot avoid being confronted with the harsh reality of India. How can a country so rich with natural and human resources be so poor? Everybody you talk to seems to know the answer; corruption. Not only of politicians but also of businessmen and companies. You can't put on TV or read a paper without a new scandal making the headlines.

People are looking at us everywhere we go- and Julia isn't even blond :-) The first night some guys asked to get a picture with us. After the first shot I was dismissed and they wanted a picture with Julia alone. I don't think the first picture will make it to their facebook profile.
And the rumour is true; Indian people are very friendly and their smiles are heart-warming. We visited Sassoon Dock in Mumbai where all the fish and vegetables that are traded in the slums arrive in the port. We never saw so many people wearing so many colours cleaning fish and trying to make a living. Taxis were filled with fish for big families and eateries. Salty water and fish smell ran from the trunks as they honked their way through Mumbai traffic.
People try to sell you anything anytime, taxis, photo-taking, food, clothes, hashish, a role in a Bollywood movie, all trying to make a Rupee.

We took a boat to Elephanta island where some amazing Hindu sculptures were made in caves 500-600 A.D. Seeing actually some Indian culture after only Victorian British colonial style buildings was refreshing. The big Shiva sculpture is 8 meters high and is really well preserved and impressive.
The boat tour on the Arabian Sea war calming, watching the Mumbai skyline pass by instead of walking amidst it.
All three evenings we ate at Indian restaurants, which we loved. Masala, thali, tandoori, dum aloo, iddli, utthapam... we slowly get to know what is what. Beers in Leopold's Cafe is a check on the list, although Mondegar was way more fun.

Arriving in Goa is a cure for stressed souls. Driving from the airport through palm-trees, forests, over hills and past Portuguese colonial style villas is a world of difference compared to Mumbai.
We stay in a small, basic beach hut overlooking the Arabian Sea surrounded by coconut-palms.
People are trying to relax, do some yoga and chill at the beach. The occasional lost hippie passes by and some elderly couples lost in time try to revive their once enchanting youth back in the sixties.The sea food is amazing. Packed in Indian spices the fresh fish is thrown on the grill.

In 2 days we will visit Old Goa, a deserted colonial city in the jungle and the famous flea market in Anjuna.
That means... updates will follow soon.

Talk to you soon and big hugs from B&J

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Posted by BasJulia 11:40 Archived in India Comments (9)

Namaste Hampi!

sunny

Dear friends,

We know that you have been waiting on an update of our adventures... so here it is.

A week is gone by and after having an Ayurvedic massage, eating fresh coconuts, Yoga class, seeing the Dudhsagar Falls, visiting a spice plantation where they grow pepper, vanilla, cinnamon and every taste you can think of, we left our comfort beach life at Goa and traveled to Hampi, the capital of the once great Vijayanagar Empire in the 15th and 16th century.

Its hard to describe in words the beauty of this place. Hampi, once at the bottom of an ocean, looks like a beautiful moon landscape. Everywhere are hills build of huge rocks which are shaped by the water, surrounded by green rice paddy's and palm trees. In this rocky landscape you cant look anywhere without seeing a temple or ruins of the empire.

Sitting on a hill we watched the sun set over this unearthly landscape. The air was filled with heaviness and some spiritual aura which touched our souls.
The first day we rented a scooter and drove over a desolated road through rice paddy's visiting all temples we could find. Coming through little villages the people all waved at us and smiled. A temple guard took us for a long tour and explained every image, played beautiful music on a rock, took us into small caves after dangerous rock climbing and finally blessed us.
Finally we received our first red point on the forehead. Since we also got blessed by an elephant you don't have to worry about us... we're good :-)

The net day our guide Kumar, recommended by Dollar and Good Boy (God knows how these boys get their names), took us to all other temples and amazing remains of the Vijayanagar Empire. Beautiful elephant stables, Queens palace, Kings bath and ingenious aqueduct. The stories he told about Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna and Ganesha were really funny. They all sounded like childrens comics in which the naughty boy punishes some women after eating too much, growing fat, looking like an elephant but riding on a poor mouse, shipping all monkeys to Sri Lanka and finally getting back his beloved wife.
And not to forget.... of course the Gods love to smoke marijuana :-)

Tonight we travel to Mysore .. lets take a look at the Maharajah palace! Updates will follow our friends!!!

Namaste and big hug,

Bas and Julia

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Posted by BasJulia 02:12 Archived in India Comments (8)

Namaste, Shalom and Salam Aleikum dear Comrades

sunny 35 °C

Dear friends,

Back again with B and J coming to you live from Fort Kochi, down south in the beautiful state of Kerala, where fish taste like heaven and alcohol is served in teapots.
Where everybody in India is searching for their spiritual roots, we found ours close by. The Dutch palace in Kochi showed me again what a great nation Holland once was, a feeling I lost since the 10th of July 2010. In the same palace Julia saw evidence of a great Indian Jewish prince once ruling the region. The Jewish empire is being held up by 5 Jewish families visiting the 500 years old synagogue on Shabbatot. Her heart swell with pride, especially when she saw the swastika (Hindu sign for the sun) brotherly hanging together with the Magen David.

Diversity is the key word for this beautiful state. The churches show their images of Christ and Maria in huge kitsch colourful display like in Hindu temples. Throw in a little Allah Hu Akbar coming from the mosques at noon and sunset, and you get your religious melting pot. Women are dressed in traditional Saris while the girls walk around in English school uniforms. Alcohol is officially prohibited but served anyway. The Communist party still has big influence over local politics displayed by flags with the Soviet symbol hanging all over the city.

Since we left Hami a week ago, we used almost every source of transportation possible. Bus, rickshaw, train and boat brought us to Kochi with stops in Mysore and Wayanad.
The trip from Hampi to Mysore taught us never to use a bus for long distances again. While at first we were comfortably laying in our sleeper corner, we totally forgot about the condition of the roads in India. Roller coasters are fun, but there is reason why they never last more the 3 minutes. We enjoyed our roller coaster ride for 9 hours and even learned how to fly horizontally until our heads bumped the ceiling and the laws of gravity proved their right once again.

Mysore is a beautiful city and the Maharadja palace is just breathtaking. Silver and ivory inlaid doors, amazing architecture combining Gothic, Colonial and Indian styles with mahogany wood ceilings. We visited the silk factory which made Mysore famous. There the employees showed us in their "best English" how Mysore silk is made into beautiful wedding saris. We ate the best chicken tikka ever served with a deliciously warm vodka ;-)

The bus to Wayanad brought us into the jungle and hills with tea, coffee and spice plantations. This is the India you know from pictures. Our guide showed us every beautiful place and rare plants and trees. He took us to the home of the owner of the car and we were welcomed by a big family all wanting to shake our hands, looking at us and asking 10.000 questions differing from; "are you married?" to "please sing us a song". In this home we learned to love coffee Keralan style.

At night we learned another lesson. Never leave your lights on and windows open during sunset in the jungle. Our house was invaded by thousands and thousands of moths. We tried to reach the light switch, but try running into a wall of flying insects..... Staying cool as always, we quickly developed a strategy to get rid of these uninvited guests.

We will stay in Kochi for 6 nights to enjoy this little peaceful town and take a tour through the beautiful backwaters of Kerala.

For today it's Namaste, Shalom and Salam Aleikum dear Comrades from Bas and Julia in Kerala, the sunshine state!

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Posted by BasJulia 04:28 Archived in India Comments (4)

Sawadii from Thailand!

sunny 38 °C

Dear friends,

Your favorite travelers survived India and after recovering in Bangkok, we are travelling up north in Thailand.
Thinking of Bangkok as a place to recover sounds ridiculous, but after India it was.

The last week in India was great. Fort Kochi is a truly laid back small city and the tour over the backwaters was amazing. Life really slows down in these little villages surrounded by nothing but water.
We decided to end our last 48 hours in India with a bang! People say that many things are not that amazing when you actually see them. We wanted to find out if this was true for the Taj Mahal. So we took the hassle and the risk of missing our flight to Bangkok & jumped on the train to Agra to catch a couple hours of sleep in a shitty hostel, but to see the sun rise above the Taj.
Friends, we were not disappointed. the Taj at sunrise is a picture from a fairytale.
Walking through Agra made us understand why people warned us for India. North India is way more dirty and poor than the South. What we have seen in that region was a different dimension of poverty.

Surprisingly we arrived on time back in Delhi and after being yelled at and followed by a gang of taxi drivers, we somehow managed to get to the airport in one piece. After 4 weeks of having great Indian food, it was almost an insult to this great culture, when we were celebrating a food orgy at McDonald's. (Bas was having a Maharadja Burger though...)

Imagine our surprise when we arrived in Bangkok and it was 22 degrees & raining. But after a couple of days it went back to 35. For us, Bangkok was the cleanest, nicest, most relaxing place one could imagine. Still, we were walking around thinking: "Don't mention the King". We mentioned the King once on the first day, but we think we got away with it ;-)

The streets of Thailand are where life is happening- from football to aerobic lessons and from street food to dancing in the rain... EVERYTHING happens on the streets.

The first night at Khaosan Road, where the backpackers hide from Thai culture but not from Thai girls, we got drunk the very first time during our trip. From day one in Thailand, too, temples are a big part of our daily lives. Imagine how astonished we were when a monk, after giving us a nice tour through his beautiful monastery & temple, apologized for taking our time. How can one not love the Thai people?!

If you ever go to Bangkok, make sure you go to the Saxophone Bar, where beer is served by pretty ladyboys, the big-band is just amazing and Thai men are challenging you to play pool. Another great ting to see is the view over Bangkok from the Sky Bar on the 65th floor where the height is as rocketing as the prices.

Right now we are in Ayutthaya, enjoying the ancient capital of Thailand. Sipping a cold beer, being totally kapputt from riding a bike through the ruins of this once great city in exhausting heat & humidity, we are longing to travel up north. More temples & jungle are awaiting us!!

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Posted by BasJulia 06:19 Archived in Thailand Comments (5)

Many Wats & Elephants

Say wat? Wat Wat Wat Wat Wat Wat Wat!

semi-overcast 27 °C

Dear friends!

Apart from the great food and hot weather, Thailand sometimes seems to consist of only two things: Wats (Buddhist Temples) & elephants. Both are sacred and beautiful, but whereas the first are always treated with respect, it sadly cannot always be said about the latter.

We visited Sukothai, another great ancient capital of Thai culture. The historical park filled with temples & ruins lies deserted but beautifully preserved between huge mango trees & bodhi trees (Ficus religiosa). The huge Buddhas seem to guide us everywhere we go.
Arriving in the cultural capital of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai, we are guided by both Buddha & Elephants. Statues of elephants are integrated in temples and real elephants seem to be a big touristic business.

Today we visited an Elephant Nature Park where old, sick or parentless elephants are nurtured and given a nice life close to living in the wild, after the abuse they suffered.
Although the elephant is a sacred animal in Thailand, their owners often don't treat them well. A part of the tribal culture of the rural villages is to break the elephants spirit before he is put to work.
The founder of the park we went to tries to save the elephants from this life and to educate the people at the same time. There are some 38 elephants living in this park. Among them are two baby-elephants who were born there. One elephant has a broken hip because of the hard work she had to do before. Another one has a leg crippled by a land-mine in Burma. The most tragic story is the one of the blind elephant. She had lost her baby because her owner wouldn't let her nurture it. After it died she refused to work any longer ans they stabbed her eyes out.

We spent the day learning about the elephants, feeding and bathing them. Seeing these huge creatures acting socially, protecting their babies, playing around and enjoying their bath really does something to you.

Let the pictures speak for themselves ;-)

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Posted by BasJulia 06:14 Archived in Thailand Comments (6)

Sabadii and khawp-jai-lailai Laos

overcast 26 °C

Dear friends,

Life is good again! We are sitting on the balcony of our beautiful hotel in Luang Prabang, overlooking the Mekong river, sipping BeerLao while the communist flag is waving proudly in the humid air. The flag and some party uniforms are the only attributes that remind you that Laos is a communist state. Everybody else in this beautiful French influenced town seems to enjoy a bourgeois life. The pace of Luang Prabang seems to be dominated by the slow stream of the mighty Mekong. Slow boats go up and down the river which makes its way through forest mountains. Many western tourists roam the streets and if we didn't know any better, Luang Prabang could easily be mistaken for any city in the middle of France.

What a difference compared to what we experienced last week.

Before crossing the boarder to Laos we went to the Golden Triangle in northern Thailand. This area is notorious for it's poppy-fields and opium trafficking between Thailand, Myanmar, Laos & China. We visited the Hall of Opium, a huge museum dedicated to illuminate the role of opium trade in the colonial era, the effects it had on society & people and how it almost destroyed China.
The Lao and Thai governments stroke down hard the opium trade, a measure which still has huge effects on the hill tribes living in the region. Robbed of their source of income, they had to move to lower regions and return to their former agricultural living, growing rice, tea, rubber, bananas and water melons.

We went on a 3day hill tribe trek in the middle of nowhere in northern Laos around a little place called Muang Sing. Few tourists make it up here so we were the only ones going up the mountains with our local guide Mr. Mai. Every day we walked for 6-7hrs, climbing up and down mountains, walking through rubber-tree fields and banana plantations and visiting small villages where the Akha and Monk people try to make a living. The Akha are a hill tribe who are animist believing in good and bad spirits, have exceptional knowledge of agriculture in the mountains as well as weaving textiles. They live a poor life in northern Laos, except for those families who made a fortune with opium. They usually live in brick houses and have satellite.
Entering through a gate to prevent evil spirits coming into the village, we saw what poverty means in rural Laos. Until now we were only confronted with poverty in big cities, but this is different. Small bamboo-huts, no toilets, everyone taking showers publicly in the center of the village in a little water basin and children running around in dirty torn cloths with running noses. Most grown-ups have dark red lips and black teeth constantly spitting out the paan, made of betel leaf with tobacco. They look totally different compared with poor people in an Indian city who still try to look neat.

Everywhere you look there are pigs, dogs, chickens, buffaloes and goats contributing to the sound and picture of the village. Kids will be kids. They jump on you, play, challenge your boundaries, are curious and love to get their picture taken. Staying, eating and sleeping in their villages made us feel contradictory. On the one hand it was a truly remarkable experience. On the other hand we felt like observing intruders who would return to their posh life soon.
Sometimes we felt like Brangelina, with the looks of course :-) but less good feelings about our presence. Don't worry, we didn't adopt abandoned twins :-)
By the way, talking about twins; Akha people believe that twins bring evil spirits. This is why in the past they would not nurture them to let them die and today, after government involvement, they give twins away for adoption.

The second village we slept in, people really tried to make us feel at home. We communicated with hands and feet and sat together with them in our bamboo hut. We drank Lao-Lao, a self distilled hard alcohol (рисовый самогон), which we did happily, knowing it would kill any bacteria in our stomach. Imagine our joy when we had to drink Lao-Lao again the next morning BEFORE breakfast (voelen wat Pierre voelt).

Our guide, Mr Mai, turned out not only to be a great guide but also a formidable cook. Lunch was served on banana leaves and every evening he cooked the most delicious, healthy meals on a fire in the corner of our hut. In India we managed to escape masala for breakfast, but this time we had to learn to enjoy a Lao noodle-soup early in the morning.

Before we left on this trek, we were worried that traveling with a governmental trekking company would be a Soviet experience, bringing us only to prosperous villages to show off on the communist "reality". Instead we got a remarkable insight into rural live in one of the poorest countries in South East Asia.
As already mentioned in the introduction, we finally did return to our posh life. First experiencing some scruples we now happily enjoy our time in beautiful Luang Prabang.

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Posted by BasJulia 01:01 Archived in Laos Comments (7)

Happy New Year Lao

sunny 40 °C

Always wanted to celebrate New Year in 40 degrees Celsius? Don't want to throw firework but water at each other? Fed up with standing in queue in the cold to get into a club and rather get drunk in the open air? Come to Laos and all your wishes will be fulfilled.

Before we dived into the celebration, we made our way east from the capital Vientiane to Konglor. Here you'll find the Kong Lor Cave, the longest cave in the world, which penetrates the mountain for 7,5 km. Sitting in a small boat entering the cave, seeing the lights disappear was a spectacular and also scary experience. We never witnessed such an earthly place in our lives. We passed stalagmites & stalactites and for the rest only the darkest of darkness for two hours. We loved the ride but were happy to see the sun again, so we could catch the bus south.

After long days and nights in non-airco buses which break down every hour, where loud Lao music is played & where they put more people in and luggage on it, then would fit in a jumbo jet, we finally arrived in Pakse in the south to celebrate New Year.
We first joined the Lao people in the ceremony where they wash the Buddha statues and the monks with flower-water. The young wash the elderly & everybody binds strings on each others arms for good-luck. After that the whole town changed into a war-zone with Lao people getting drunk & having huge water fights in the streets. There was no smell of Napalm in the morning but it felt like Apocalypse Now. We bought a huge water-machine-gun and roamed the streets looking to shoot easy victims. They threw water in buckets at us, fed us BeerLao and painted us like Rambo.

The second day of New Year (they celebrate 3 days) we wanted to take a break and hired a scooter to drive into the hills to see waterfalls. The falls were lovely and we had nice recreation time but driving through villages on the scooter was no picnic. People were throwing water in gallons and open 4-wheel-drives filled with youth gangs joined the water slaughter. After witnessing several car incidents we gave operation "Save Haven" a go, moved to Defcon 4 and we wiped out the entire village with our water machine-gun only to return home safely.

Right now we are enjoying the peace at 4000 islands. The area is called that because it consists of thousands of little islands on the Mekong. Time has stood still here because it is too hot to move, even for time. But it's beautiful, the sunsets are breath taking, the dolphins are too cute to be true, and living live in a hammock is just great. Tomorrow we'll hit the Cambodian border. We'll dump the gun before that, but we'll try to smuggle a Buddha statue and an opium pipe (Moms, don't worry!!) over the border. If we need a lawyer, we'll let you know..

P.S. For all the ones who were skeptical about us leaving our comfort life for a backpacker life, we post some pictures of the average hotel room we stay in during this trip, just to prove you wrong.

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Posted by BasJulia 04:46 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

I need Dollar Dollar... Dollar is what I need...Hey Hey

sunny 40 °C

Dear friends,

Sometimes when you travel you get followed by some recurring themes. Escaping from slavery is a theme that has been haunting us on our way through Cambodia. It all started on our first night in Phnom Penh. To celebrate the Jewish Passover in remembrance of their escape from Egyptian slavery, we went to the Jewish community house in Phnom Penh to have a traditional Sedar. The dinner ceremony was led by orthodox Jews and attended by fellow travelers and expats. Orthodox Jews in Cambodia is not a common sight and it felt like we had traveled through a time-culture machine. We ate, drank, prayed and discussed several themes including slavery back in the days and slavery in modern times. Are we really free because we have wealth and live in free democratic societies or are we still enslaved by depending on modern technology and luxury and by the sometimes overwhelming social pressure that's put on us every day?

With these questions in the back of our minds we visited the genocide museum and the Killing Fields. 5 years long the Cambodians were enslaved and terrorized by the Red Khmer. People were driven out of the city to work on the land under the worst circumstances you can imagine. Schools were closed and the intelligentsia got killed by Brother Number 1 Pol Pot, a teacher who studied at the Sorbonne we might add. The experts are uncertain but it's safe to say that about 2 million people were killed by the Red Khmer. We walked on the Killing Fields where we had to be careful not to step on bone fragments and teeth which still wash up after a rainy day.
The French colonization until the 50's, the carpet-bombing of the US which killed 1/4 million Cambodians in the 60's, the land mines and the terror of the Red Khmer in the 70's... the Cambodians have gone through too many and their way out of slavery has just begun only to be challenged by a new form of slavery..... the Dollar.

This manifests itself in positive but also in dark ways. Thailand is well on its way to ban sex tourism but Cambodia has only just begun. Sihanoukville at the coast is yet another Lloret de Mar where white granddads walk hand in hand with colored almond eyes granddaughters. Tuktuk drivers think you're there to party and instead of a drive to the beach they offer you drugs and girls.
Who should we be angry with? The western tourist who buys himself a second (or first ;) ) life, or the Cambodians who sell out their culture and woman for some dollar? Do the Cambodians adjust to our demand or do we adjust our demand and behavior to their offering?

Fortunately we could escape these economic transactions and take the boat to a deserted island, Koh Rong. Never-ending white beaches with no one on it and turquoise crystal clear water. We stayed for a week, went diving, snorkeling, got eaten by insects & enjoyed the quiet time after two and a half months traveling. On our way back to the main land we learned that the island was recently leased for 99 years to a big company who is gonna turn the island into a big luxury resort. So much for Dollars @ work.

Siem Reap is quite a different story though. This booming city is filled with hotels & all the luxury tourists hope for, but here the Cambodians make money presenting their cultural heritage to the public. After all the misery this country went through, you tend to forget; Cambodia has Angkor Wat. The Khmer Empire was once a mighty empire in the region which built the biggest & most impressive religious sites in the world. Angkor Wat is huge, but Bayon, the temple with 54 towers with each 4 Buddha faces is just breath taking. We didn't pull a Lara Croft but were very impressed by Ta Prohm, the temple which is being eaten away by the jungle. We spent two days visiting the temples and still, we didn't see all of them. But we were glad to see Dollars @ at work in a more positive way.

How to end this quasi serious intellectual story? ;) Maybe by accepting that there always will be some form of slavery, but that the more important question is how you deal with it. The Cambodians certainly found a good way. They are proud of their heritage, have fun & laugh a lot, are open to discuss their troubled past, but seem to be looking at a brighter future. A future in which hopefully we, western tourists, learn to consume more responsibly in this beautiful country.

Next time a more fun story from China... promised! About pingpong, eating dog.. and swaffeling the Great Wall!

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Posted by BasJulia 05:26 Archived in Cambodia Comments (5)

Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Big City of Dreams

A Story about Dim Sum and Rock 'n Roll

sunny 30 °C

Where to stay if you are going to Hong Kong? Lamma Island, of course. The island where no traffic is allowed, where the fish look you in the eye before you decide to kill and eat them, where the jungle is still lush and where you can retreat in a green, peaceful, alternative oasis after a day in Sky Scraper City.

We were invited by Shaun and Natalie, friends we met in Goa, India. We stayed for a week in their lovely apartment with their great dog Joleen and sea view from their terrace. They introduced us to the life locals live in HK. And what an awesome life this is!!!
Our days were filled with Dim Sum for breakfast and live gigs in the evening. During the days we did sight seeing in HK, went to the beach, didn't forget to shop and enjoyed all the luxury HK has to offer. Looking at the huge shops of Armani, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, we had to watch out not to get run over by a Maserati, Benz or a Bentley. Our flash-packer-look was diminished to the back-packer-look after 5 min in HK.

But looks don't matter if you are introduced to the rocking music scene of HK. The David Bowie Knives, the band Shaun plays in, are known to be sexier than Angelina Jolie... FACT!! ... and the live performance was very much like aural sex! Natalie is the Kim Deal version of HK and looked even lovelier with her bass guitar. We got to meet loads of amazing people... and a great guy.

We sipped cocktails at a roof-top bar overlooking THE skyline having pseudo political conversations (Jules couldn't resist, of course) :) ;
Ended up in a run down living room calling itself a gallery, where everyone who could play an instrument jammed till dawn;
Chartered a luxurious Chinese boat back to Lamma Island in the middle of the night;
Had great sea-food;
Enjoyed a birthday party at a beach full of men with too small shorts and too much bronzing oil;
Got to cook a home-made dinner after three months of choosing from a menu;
Gave our bodies the much needed sleep until noon every day;
And loved the company of Joleen, the biggest and cutest "puppy" of all times.

We absolutely fell in love with the nice life style in HK and it was hard to resist the temptation to move there.

Hong Kong, concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There's nothin' you can't do
Now you're in Hong Kong
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let's hear it for Hong Kong Hong Kong Hong Kong

This blog entry might seem short, but that's just because we finally enjoyed a week of normal life again after all these weeks on the road. Hong Kong, Shaun, Natalie and Joleen gave us exactly what we needed and hoped for!!!

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Posted by BasJulia 04:54 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (2)

Lost in Translation

in China, the country of crowded ugly cities and beautiful landscapes

semi-overcast 23 °C

Travelling in China adds a new dimension to being lost in translation. Trying to figure out the destinations written in Chinese characters has become a great game between us. That Character looks the Eiffel Tower, That one like a jumping person with weird hair and isn't this a Christmas tree? The one who finds the bus to the Eiffel Tower last, gets dog for dinner.
Showing the Chinese a small book with pictures, words and questions in Chinese helps but the answers they give don't of course. But the people are so friendly and helpful. The bus drivers take you to the next bus and a girl who could speak English bought our train tickets before she took us out for dinner, hoping that when she might make it to Europe, people would treat her the same.

So friends, if you see a Chinese tourist, make sure you take her out for Schnitzel and beers before buying her a one way ticket to Rostock :)

We are only 1 week here but saw already so much. We visited Guilin, located at the beautiful Li river. Here the landscape is dominated by karst peaks carved by the elements into bizarre shapes, each one with a name and an associated legend, through which the river cuts. Even though the weather was foggy, the boat ride between these peaks was wonderful and showed us a landscape never seen before and only to be seen in China.

In the evening the girls from the guesthouse taught us to play Mahjong. Trying to make combinations of Chinese characters was another mental challenge which we're going to put on you guys, when we're back, because we're definitely gonna buy this great game. Be prepared for good food, plenty of booze and playing till deep in the night at our home in Berlin.

Travelling from Guilin to Ping'An was a dodgy ride through mountains in a bus, which almost fell apart, filled with locals, mostly from the ethnic group "Dong". The Dong people are famous for their wooden houses, drum towers as well as rain- and wind-bridges. Ping'An is a mass tourism location for the Chinese themselves and during the day you get overrun by red and yellow baseball caps and guides with funny coloured flags shouting into microphones. Obviously the Chinese still know how to organize and manage the masses :-) But the views on the most extreme rice terracing you'll find anywhere are definitely worth it. For 700 years the Dong farmers have been growing these rice terraces steep up the mountains. We arrived at another Dong village, Zhaoxing, after 9 hours in the bus completing as much as 90km. The atmospheric villages, the traditional people, the beautiful wooden wind- and rain-bridges and the amazing mountain scenery packed with rice terraces is absolutely the China you dream of.

And then, there is the food. We loved Indian & Thai food but the Chinese definitely win! With our little book we point at a cow and some vegetables and then they just show up with the most delicious dishes. Wow, can they cook!!

What else can we say about the Chinese? Their cities are crowded, filled with ugly socialist buildings and smog is something you pick out of your nose in the morning. Their phones are on maximum volume, but when they talk they're even louder- shouting in their fake Nokias. Every man, and we do mean EVERY man smokes, no matter where - on the train, in the bus, in restaurants, in hotel rooms and on the toilets where they sit between two little walls, where everyone can see them. They build in superlatives. Every bridge, tunnel or highway seems a hundred times bigger than ours in Europe. They're small but they're with many. They love to wear uniforms and sports is a group thing performed in parks.

In sum, up till now it is our favorite country on this journey. The country side and landscapes are amazing and so are the people and the food. Right now we are in Dali and tomorrow heading to Lijiang, where we are gonna conquer Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Stay tuned, friends!

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Posted by BasJulia 21:38 Archived in China Comments (7)

Leaping Tigers, Lazy-ass Pandas and a dissapointed Mao

sunny 30 °C

Lijiang in West China is a beautiful old city in the mountains and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts more tourists per year than any other site or city worldwide. Reason enough to go... and reason enough not to go. Lijiang is turned into a touristic theme park where you fight your way through small alleys overrun by yellow, red & blue baseball caps. Still, walking through the small cobbled streets, looking at the traditional houses, overseeing the city from a hill, it´s hard not to be astonished by its preserved beauty.
For us, Lijiang was also the base camp for the 2 day hike through Tiger Leaping Gorge. In this area the Yangtze River smashes into two mountains becoming a really small gorge where, as the legend tells us, a tiger escaped its hunter by leaping on a stone to the other side.
We started the high trail over the mountain together with a Spanish geologist, Xavi, and two Chinese guys, Gong & Samuel, whom we met in our hostel. Apart from the fun we had together these guys were the best hiking partners we could wish for. Xavi explained everything about the different sort of stones and the old landslides we encountered. Gong and Samuel knew exactly which dishes to choose from every menu.
The first day we walked to the top, where we had a great view from above over the gorge and the mountain scenery. After 7 hours of hiking we finally threw out our shoes and enjoyed the sunset over the mountains with a cold beer. Our room in the little wooden bungalow on the top had a balcony where we saw the sun rise again next morning. On our way down we finally got to the river instead of looking at it from above. We were standing between the mountains which looked like 2 steep walls almost touching each other leaving just a little bit of room to let that powerful water through. An amazing piece of nature of which we hope it will be preserved as the Chinese are already test-drilling and setting up construction sites nearby. The rumor goes they want to build another big dam in this part of the river.

When we got out of the airport at Chengdu, a city we never heard of but has 11 million inhabitants, we couldn’t see the sun for 2 days and learned what smog looks like. A grey blanket over your city which makes you feel depressed and longing for blue skies. Kinda like Berlin in the winter, only much warmer.
Although Chengdu is a huge city, it’s absolutely laid back. It’s located in the Sichuan Province and famous for its tea-house culture. Everywhere you see small cafe´s or terraces where people are playing cards or Mahjong and enjoying their cup of tea. Buying tea in local shops is transformed in a long ritual in which you get to taste the tea and they explain every impact the tea has on body and mind. Strolling over the antique market we found our beautiful Mahjong game which we bought after hard, long and intense bargaining. We walked away several times, J played the angry part and B acted insulted. We´re really becoming experts in bargaining and the bartenders and taxi drivers in Berlin will suffer! Promise!
What? 2,50 for a beer? I´ll give you 1,- for it. But only because it´s you my friend. Because I like you!

On the other hand, what we´re really looking forward to is taking a taxi without the hassle regarding the destination. Imagine:
- To Club Watergate please!
- No Sir, Watergate is closed, there was a huge fire, but I´ll take you to my brothers Doenerladen. There they have good beer too!
- No, take me to Watergate.
- But Sir, my family has to eat too!

In China it was helpful though when you got pulled into a restaurant before you could refuse. In Chengdu we discovered the Sichuan Hot Pot this way. And if they say Hot Pot, they do mean HOOOOOOOT. In the middle of the table they place a boil with liquid filled with chilis, only chili and some more chilis. In this liquid which makes you sweat just by looking at it, you cook your fish, meat and vegetables. The restaurant owner took our picture book and pointed at a lot of things. We nodded yes like stupid tourists, but the result was a great meal, loads of tears and sweating only to be stopped with liters of beer and kilo´s of white rice.

Chengdu is also famous for its Panda Breeding Resort. Here scientists perform research on breeding and survival skills of the Panda. If you look at them you´ll understand why they need a little help. God, are they lazy. The only thing that matters to them is eating bamboo. They sit like All Bundy on the couch leaning against a tree eating their bamboo sticks and having crumbs all over them. It´s hard to imagine that the Panda´s already live 8 million years and are one of the oldest species alive. We spent a day at the resort as volunteers and got to feed them and see them up-close. Look at the pictures and smile. God, are the cute!

China is the land of contradictions. Half of its inhabitants (and that´s a looot of people) have to live of less than 1 dollar a day. The other half though is definitely occupied by a natural habitat of consuming operandi. We knew China had opened up to the world but still expected a little bit more of the good old communism. No way, capitalism has won and stroke down communism like Barcelona beat Manchester; without a chance!
On the main square of Chengdu there´s a huge statue of Mao. Around him there are huge buildings with neon lights that perform a light show at night that would make the King of Pop jealous. The arm of Mao is stretched out over his people pointing at something. If you look close and follow his finger, you´ll see that he is pointing at a huge yellow arched M. Hopefully Mao has a sense of humor, otherwise he is turning in his mausoleum.
Mao is also eternally present at Tianmen Square in Beijing. His huge portrait hangs over the entrance of the Forbidden City and his corpse can still be visited in the big mausoleum in the middle of the square. On this huge square surrounded by socialist buildings, you only have to close your eyes to see the big parades go by.

What a contrast compared to the architecture of the Forbidden City and the not-so-socialist life the emperors lived between these walls. Here you´ll find palace after palace, temples, beautiful gardens and nicely decorated houses for the emperors, his family and his many many concubines. We walked around for many hours listening to the audio guide and wondered with a little smile how life would look like between these magnificent walls.
What is better? A non-egalitarian society which is ruled by divine emperors or a supposed to be egalitarian socialist society ruled by some dictator and his party chefs? In both societies the few have everything and the many have not. At least the emperors had the courage to state that they were better than everybody else and didn’t create a lie about the farmers and simple people being the backbone of society. Mao souvenirs are sold all over Beijing, you´ll find his little red book all over town, the Chinese visit his mausoleum and get their picture taken by his huge portrait. How are we supposed to interpreted this? Like an innocent curiosity displayed by Chinese tourists visiting their capital? Like a distasteful naivety by the masses? Or do they really believe in the myth of Mao and close their eyes for his monstrosities? We´ll guess we´ll never know, because political conversations are not done, especially not with strangers or tourists. Who could blame them?
1 thing Mao accomplished though with his cultural revolution. In the 5 weeks we travelled through China, we didn’t see 1 person reading a book in public. On all the planes, trains, automobiles and busses we took, we didn’t discover 1 book, only a lot of video games played on touch screens.

We saved the best for last. One hasn’t experienced Beijing without eating Peking-Duck and one hasn’t seen China without climbing the Great Wall. The desire to have a good Peking-Duck led us to a well known huge typical Chinese restaurant. After been seated we ordered 1 duck, some bread and some sauces. If you order duck, its only duck you eat! After some time and build-up suspension our duck was brought in on a tray and sliced up live before our eyes. His head was nicely opened and gracefully presented in the middle of the table.... Now you guess...... ;)
After the waitress taught us how to make the proper sandwich our senses were delighted with the taste of the original Peking-Duck!

Climbing on the Great Wall is possible in many locations around Beijing. We decided for the furthest, least touristic and mostly unrenovated part. Walking turned into climbing on a wall that was sometimes near to collapse. The sense of history, human accomplishment and length was ever present and overwhelming. At some parts we were completely alone with ancient name inscriptions carved in the stones and the view of kilometers of wall climbing up and down the hills. Again we experienced one of the great world wonders that didn’t disappoint. One has to be astonished by the greatness and pointlessness of the endeavors of mankind.

Asia was about to end for us and we had a 24 hour flight to Cuba ahead. What better way to end these 4 incredible months then to have drinks with friends we met on the road?! Not only Xavi made his way to Beijing, but also Ingrid and Geoffroy, whom we met in India, Laos and again China, made our last evening in Asia a perfect farewell party.

Thank you Asia and here we come Latin-America!!!!

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Posted by BasJulia 14:34 Archived in China Comments (5)

Hasta la Victoria siempre!

sunny 34 °C

Making a 3 week stop in Cuba, taking a rest after Asia and warming-up for South-America was probably one of the best decisions we made so far. What better place to relax then Cuba? White beaches, turquoise seas, colonial cities, streets filled with old-timers and nights with Cuba-Libre, Mojito, live-music and dancing people.
It was also a Wiedersehen with home again, as Bas´ cousin Gijs (Jose for the Cubans and el Hombre for the intimate insiders) flew into Cuba from Holland. Amazing how small the world has become. We flew from Beijing to Havana with 2 lay-overs in Canada and Gijs flew from Amsterdam to Varadero and took the bus to Havana. We showed up at our casa particular 3 minutes after each other. How happy we were when Gijs opened his bag and showed us Lays Paprika Chips, Winegums, Mentos and Dutch magazines. Of course we were also happy to see him ;) Our first night started and ended with many, many Cuba-Libres, pizza, live music, Gijs dancing the Salsa and an old-timer taxi drive home.

Havana is exactly how you picture it. Beautiful old colonial buildings, some of them renovated but most of them completely rundown. Empty shops with long queues of Cubans. Old-timers at every corner. Paintings and slogans on many buildings glorifying Che and la revolucion. The bars and restaurants don’t have everything that´s on the menu, but all have live-music. Men on the street offer rum and cigars while the women offer other services. We roamed the streets of La Habana Vieja absorbing the atmosphere and adjusting to the rhythm and pace of the Cubans.
We visited La Plaza de la Revolucion, the immense square, where Fidel used to give his 6hrs marathon speeches, and where you find the famous huge portraits of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos on the government buildings. We had a lively discussion among us three; which square is uglier- this one or Alexanderplatz? The Venezuelans (Cuba´s most recent political lovers) didn’t seem to mind the ugliness. They collectively saluted the national monument of Jose Marti, a Cuban hero of the independence movement against the Spanish, and seemed to enjoy the socialist coziness of uniformity and collectivity.

At night we celebrated Gijs´ birthday in Casa de la Musica. Celebration on Cuba is only a real party when having 3 attributes: live salsa music, el ron & a 1st class puro (cigar). Of course we had it all ;) Driving home in a tuned Moskvich Крокодил with loud pumping local Latino hip hop rounded up a great night.

After 4 days of pretending to be “Our man in Havana”, we left for Santa Clara, the last resting place of Che. The monument and the statue are huge, but his mausoleum is really graceful & peaceful. In Santa Clara the last and decisive battle against dictator Batista´s troops was fought under command of Che. Outnumbered by many, Che and his rebel forces triumphed and made la Revolucion on the 1st of January 1959 a fact.

Trinidad at the south coast is a city of astonishing beauty. It was founded by the Spaniards in the 16th century and nothing really has changed since. Time has stood still in Trinidad- small cobbled streets, beautiful churches, pastel colored one-story houses all surrounded by lush green mountains and the sea. We stayed with a family in a wonderful colonial house with an elegant courtyard where we had delicious breakfasts and lobster for dinner.

Living in a UNESCO World Heritage city may be nice, except when you´re poor. We gave away some small things on the street and were immediately surrounded by an intimidating crowd asking for more. Socialism at its worst! Cuba is yet another example of a state planned and controlled economy and society, which is not functioning. The ideas of la Revolucion and el Socialismo are absolutely great and worth fighting for. One cannot deny that Fidel, Raul and Che started with the best intentions for the people in Latin America. Illiteracy was taken on and diminishes to 1% in 1 year. The health care was revolutionized and made free for everyone. The GNP of Cuba rose in the first two decades after the revolution, not in the last place because of the collective effort of the Cuban people.
But you gotta ask yourself; what is good about socialism when you have to imprison you political opponents, when the country´s intelligentsia flees abroad, when the health care is for free but no medicine is available, when you people are standing in lines in front of empty shops and when your doctors, professors and engineers are forced to work in hotels and restaurants. Change is slowly coming to Cuba though and if you talk to people, you sense that they look forward to a brighter future with more opportunities.

In Che´s words: “I know that when the great guiding spirit cleaves humanity into two antagonistic halves, I would be with the people … I steel my body, ready to do battle, and prepare myself to be a sacred space within which the bestial howl of the triumphant proletariat can resound with new energy and new hope.”

Staying at casas particulares with the locals was a great way of travelling through Cuba. We got to enjoy their lovely homes, warm hospitality and nice home-cooking. Before going to Varadero for a week of sea and beach we were afraid that we would have to stay in a resort. Luckily they recently made casas particulares available in Varadero as well.

We loved the white beaches and turquoise colored sea. Sadly we had to say goodbye to Gijs who flew back to Holland. After he left we comforted ourselves with Cuba Libres and Mojitos. We did some marvelous snorkeling and spent many lazy days with many books on the beach.

The last week on Cuba we went west and discovered the beautiful nature of Pinar del Rio and Viñales. Hiking through the amazing valley surrounded by limestone mountains was stunning. We tasted Coco Loco, a coconut filled with juice and rum, watched cigar-making at a famous tobacco plantation and enjoyed some more of the peace and tranquility Cuba has to offer.

Cuba was a perfect appetizer for anything to come in South America.

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Posted by BasJulia 21:30 Archived in Cuba Comments (5)

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